This project can start with a scavenger hunt outdoors. Help your child collect small lightweight objects in the yard (weeds, leaves, twigs). Back inside, add some craft items (feathers, yarn, small balls of colorful, crinkled tissue paper) to your collection. Attach a large piece of clear Con-Tact paper to the refrigerator, sticky side out. Your 1-year-old will enjoy the feel of the paper as well as attaching objects to it. Name the objects as your child sticks them on. Safety note: Small items are a choking hazard, so watch your toddler carefully. To preserve the arrangement, cut a second piece of Con-Tact paper that's the same size as the first, lay it over the objects, and press down. Presto! -- a place mat.
Toddlers love to make noise, so start a ruckus. Besides banging on pots and pans, your child can use these easy homemade instruments:
Shakers: Collect cans with plastic lids -- such as potato-chip cans or coffee cans. Fill them with rice or dry beans. Fasten the lids securely with tape, and help your toddler decorate the outside. Then let her shake, shake, shake.
Drums: Remove the covers of several clean, empty cans, and cover the edges with duct tape. Then tape several cans together in a circle and let your toddler drum away. Compare the sounds of the cans.
Music sharpens your toddler's listening skills and helps her discriminate between types of sounds, such as loud and soft.
As every parent soon discovers, when you buy a toy for a 1-year-old, he's just as likely to play with the box. To capitalize on your toddler's interest in opening packages, gather a number of boxes with lids. (Shoe boxes work beautifully.) In each, place a textured object, such as a clean sponge, a soft ball of wool, a new scrub brush, a big ball of foil, a large sandpaper square, or a cold ice pack.
Watch your child's excitement as he discovers and handles each object. Talk about the different shapes and textures. If the boxes vary in size, place smaller ones inside larger ones to add another element of surprise. For 18- to 24-month-olds, create a memory game ("Which box has Mommy's keys?").
Toddlers love to watch how water pours, flows, and fills containers. "Water is fascinating and soothing to 1-year-olds," says April Abrams, director of an early-childhood-education program at Fair Lawn, New Jersey. "They are entranced by its sounds and feel." What's more, water play teaches beginning math concepts. ("This cup holds more water than that one." "Now there's less water in the spoon.").
Fill the bathtub with a few inches of water. Make sure the room is warm enough for your child and that you have a slip-proof mat in the tub. Add cups, bowls, funnels, squeeze bottles, a turkey baster, and a doll. Sit on the side and blow bubbles for added excitement. Then watch the fun begin. Caution: Never leave a toddler unattended around water.
Collect your child's favorite stuffed animals, and arrange them along the sofa and chairs or in different rooms of your house. Taking along toy food or even a real carrot, visit each animal with your child. Feed it, pet it, an talk about its special features (floppy ears, a long tail, fluffy fur) and the noises it makes (grrrr, baaa, neigh). Make sure your 1-year-old doesn't chew the carrot himself; carrots are a choking hazard. Ask you child questions about each creature, and encourage him to use him imagination in his answers. This pretend play will help your toddler learn to think creatively and generate his own ideas, Abrams says. What's more, you'll be sharing special memories.